Friday, 17 January 2020

Movie Review: Frozen II (2019)

Movie Review: Frozen II: Into the Unknown

Into the unknown…

Frozen II (2019): ★★★½

Directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee

Frozen II is a good movie. Is it as good as the first Frozen (which is also a good movie)? I’m actually not entirely certain. But it is at least as good. Spoilers abound!

The movie takes place some time after the first movie. At least 15 months, since the first Frozen takes place during the Summer, and Olaf’s Frozen Adventure takes place during a following winter, and then this film takes place in the Fall.

In the interim, all the characters have settled into their peaceful, relaxing lives as kings, princesses, paramours, and sentient snowmen. How do we know all this? Because the characters sing it in a song! The song is called “Some Things Never Change,” and it’s hilarious (to me) because it’s basically a list of everything that will change throughout the course of the movie.

But Elsa is growing restless; she feels like she doesn’t really fit in. Her powers are growing even more powerful, and now she’s hearing some sort of voice that seems to be calling her. How do we know all this? Because Elsa sings it in a song called “Into the Unknown!”

After an inciting, accidental incident, Elsa sets out to find the source of the voice, which she also hope will tell her more about what her powers mean and who she is meant to be. Anna, freaked out about the possibility of losing Elsa (again), tags along in a desperate bid to keep Elsa safe. Kristoff, freaked out about the possibility of losing Anna (again), tags along in a desperate bid to keep Anna safe. And Olaf tags along because what else would he do?

That’s one of the fascinating central themes of the movie, which is how do you protect people who don’t want to be protected? Or who don’t even really need your protection? Anna and to a lesser extent Kristoff seem to have some PTSD stemming from their first Frozen adventure, and it makes them desperate to cling to a sense of normalcy that is denied to Elsa simply because of the fact that she’s brimming with superpowers. Anna is scared to death that Elsa is going to run off again and get hurt, and is willing to put herself in harm’s way to stop it. Kristoff is scared to death that Anna is going to run off with Elsa and forget all about him. And, in fact, they’re both exactly correct!

Elsa is so desperate to figure herself out that she does basically run off. Anna runs off after her, leaving Kristoff behind (though there is some miscommunication about whether Kristoff ran off first or not). Elsa knows that Anna would march straight to her death to defend her, so she forcefully sends Anna and Olaf away to (what she presumes is) safety and heads off alone… and basically ends up getting killed. Which causes Olaf to die because Elsa’s magic was the only thing keeping him alive. Which leaves Anna to have to face her greatest fear, a fear that has haunted her since her lonely childhood: She has to be alone.

And so while the first Frozen was a meditation on being true to yourself and never giving up on your family no matter what, Frozen II becomes a meditation on figuring out how to stop defining yourself through other people; of how to stop being so damned clingy; of how to grieve. A line in Kristoff’s (excellent) song “Lost in the Woods” sums the dilemma up nicely: “Who am I, if I’m not your guy? Where am I, if we’re not together?”

There are some pacing and structural problems with the movie, though. As I noted earlier, the beginning of the movie is a lot of exposition about where the characters are emotionally because they just straight-up say so. It’s a lot of telling and not much showing. Kristoff kinda gets shortchanged. He literally disappears in the second act right at the apex of his dilemma, only to re-appear during the climax apparently accepting of his place (??). The film also sets up in its third resolution to be very shocking and dramatic, then chickens out of completely in kind of a deus ex machina. It’s basically a have-your-cake-and-eat-it problem, where the main characters don’t actually end up sacrificing anything to achieve victory, even though the status quo has shifted slightly. Also during the course of the film Elsa ends up taming the 4 elemental spirits: Wind, Fire, Water, and Earth… oh, wait, they completely skip Earth for some reason! There is a legitimately funny-in-a-sitcom-way recurring gag where Kristoff is so nervous about proposing to Anna that all of their conversations end up going in exactly the wrong direction due to Anna ending Kristoff’s sentences completely incorrectly. But tonally it seems like it comes out of nowhere for Anna to be acting like that only with Kristoff and nobody else. And finally I wasn’t a fan of the Fire spirit being an adorable, non-speaking cute animal for no apparent reason. Seemed a bit pandering to me.

There are a lot great things as well: visually the autumn palette allows much more variety and is much prettier to look at than all that white snow of the first movie. Olaf is way funnier than in the first movie, and though he doesn’t drive the plot much he’s at the heart of the emotional message of the movie. The 7 new songs are all great, with the exception of Olaf’s, which is kind of a throwaway. Once again the movie front-loads a lot of the music; like the first Frozen, there are three songs before the plot even gets underway. I appreciated that this time, though, the final song in the movie, Anna’s heartbreaking “The Next Right Thing,” is one of the most important parts of the film, rather than the throwaway “Fixer-Upper” final song from the first film.

And then there’s the aforementioned Kristoff song, “Lost in the Woods.” I would have loved to have sat in on the story meeting where this scene got approved, because it is glorious and amazing even though it tonally does not fit in with the rest of the movie at all. It’s bizarre and balsy that it’s in there at all. I hope you like Peter Cetera, because the duo who wrote this song sure do! I’ll leave you with this:

On a personal note, when the idea of a Frozen II was first floating around (i.e., immediately after the first Frozen cam out), I thought that the best idea for it would be to explore the origins of Elsa’s powers, because they were completely hand-waved in the first film. It’s nice to know that the Disney people agreed!

Categories: Movie Reviews, Movies, Reviews.

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